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Paul B. Lukacs, a specialist in 19th-century American literature at Loyola and wine columnist, dies

Paul B. Lukacs, a longtime Loyola University Maryland English professor whose specialty was 19th-century American literature, was also an oenophile, wine columnist and gourmand.
Paul B. Lukacs, a longtime Loyola University Maryland English professor whose specialty was 19th-century American literature, was also an oenophile, wine columnist and gourmand. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Paul B. Lukacs, a longtime Loyola University Maryland English professor, oenophile, wine columnist and gourmand, died of complications from a liver transplant June 15 at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. The Harbor East resident was 65.

“I hired Paul when he was a graduate student at Hopkins, and when he became English Department chair, he loved it,” said Carol “Sue” Abromaitis, who was Loyola University Maryland English department chair from 1983 to 1991. “He loved wine and was a world traveler. His father was a noted European historian and he grew up in a home with a sense of history and literature. He was a charming man whose favorite saying was, ‘Don’t be grumpy.’”

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Kathleen Forni, who succeeded Dr. Lukacs as department chair when he became ill, said he was patient and kind. “I would say as a teacher, he set himself as an incredible inspiration. … He became my mentor, and he was always willing to take time to talk and his office door was always open to students and junior faculty.”

Paul Braddock Lukacs, son of John Lukacs, a professor of history at Chestnut Hill College and author of more than 30 books, and his wife, Helen Lukacs, a homemaker, was born and raised in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

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After graduating from the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Kenyon College where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and subsequently a master’s and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University.

Professor Lukacs, whose specialty was 19th-century American literature, began teaching at Loyola when he was a graduate student at Hopkins, was named an assistant professor in 1981 and an associate professor in 1984.

During his more than 30-year career at Loyola, he had been English department chair for 18 years, co-chaired Loyola’s Phi Beta Kappa application, directed the Honors Program, served as a member of the Board of Rank and Tenure, directed the Loyola-Leuven Program and Center for Humanities and was a member of the Loyola Conference.

“Paul was a champion of good teaching, had good interaction with the students and made the department more social,” said Dr. Abromaitis, who retired from Loyola last year. “His sign-up sheets were always full. He made friends with the students, but he never let that interfere with his objectivity when he had to tell them something they may not have wanted to hear.”

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One of the novelists Dr. Lukacs enjoyed teaching was Herman Melville.

“He was very well known for his skill at teaching ‘Moby Dick,’ and he was very good at getting students to tackle that,” said Michael Franz, a close longtime friend and Loyola colleague, who is a professor of political science.

“Somehow he made his students love it,” Dr. Forni said. “Paul had a regular fan club and was able to get students to become English majors.”

Dr. Franz opined: “He was a man of sound judgment and an even disposition, but he had strong opinions and was a completely independent thinker. He was very Old World and soft-spoken.”

In addition to their work in academia, Dr. Lukacs and Dr. Franz bonded over their mutual interest in history, politics, tennis and wine.

“He was a serious student of wine,” Dr. Franz said. “The Washington Times hired me as a wine columnist in 1993, and when I stepped down to write a wine column for The Washington Post, The Times hired Paul, and he wrote a wine column for a decade.”

Dr. Lukacs also wrote a wine column for Washingtonian magazine and, in 2013, helped launch Wine Review Online. He also wrote for American Heritage, Saveur magazine, Esquire, Wine and Spirits and Food Arts.

“Pretty early in my career at Loyola, I was doing an independent study with some graduate students, and we evolved into a reading group,” Dr. Lukacs explained in a 2013 Baltimore Sun interview. “Then it was a reading and wine-tasting group. Eventually we dropped books, and it was a wine-tasting group.”

Dr. Lukacs explained in the interview the many pleasures that he found in wine.

“The pleasure is this combination of the hedonistic and the intellectual, the sensory and the contemplative — two very different pleasures,” he said in the interview. “For me, wine brings both. It’s something that brings me great sensual enjoyment. It feels good in my mouth. It tastes good.”

In 1989, the two men established a restaurant and wine consulting business, which they operated until 2019.

“We were consultants to Clyde’s Restaurant Group in Washington as independent contractors,” Dr. Franz said. “Paul was a specialist in American wines and was a noted authority on them, but also wines of the world. His favorites were USA wines and wines from France, and we did many trips together all over the world together drinking wine.”

It’s been said the two men because of their consulting business have sampled some 48,000 wines while consultants. ”And that would be a very conservative estimate,” Dr. Franz said with a laugh.

Dr. Lukacs is the author of “American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine,” “The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards and Vintages” and “Inventing Wine: A New History of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.”

He was the winner of three major awards for his work: the James Beard Foundation, Champagne Veuve Clicquot and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

In addition to an annual trip to France with his wife of 23 years, Marguerite Thomas, who is also a wine writer, Dr. Lukacs enjoyed spending summers in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he read a book a day, family members said.

In The Sun interview, he explained that he was not a white wine-versus-red or a New World-versus-Old kind of guy.

“But if I had to be stuck on a desert island with only one kind of wine, I would want to drink a very, very good Champagne,” he said.

When asked about white zinfandel he had a four-word answer.

“White zinfandel is dying.”

A celebration of life gathering will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 10 in Loyola’s Alumni Memorial Chapel, 4501 N. Charles St.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Lukacs is survived by a daughter, Helen Lukacs of Alford, Maine; two stepsons, Adam Thinger of New Jersey and David Thinger of Grand Rapids, Michigan; a sister, Annemarie Cochrane of Elverson, Pennsylvania; two stepbrothers, Charles Segal of Phoenixville and Peter Segal of Malvern, Pennsylvania; a stepsister, Hilary Felton of Royersford, Pennsylvania; and a grandson. An earlier marriage to the former Karen Johnson ended in divorce.

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